Most Developers Fail to Design Websites Accessible to People With Disabilities

The founder of accessibility firm Deque Systems shares tips to make sites easier to use

21 June 2017

The Internet makes a seemingly unlimited variety of products, services, and timely information available at our fingertips wherever we are. But it might not be that easy to take advantage of those offerings if you have a disability.

Although many countries have website accessibility standards in place, the majority of developers fail to adhere to them. For example, as of last year 70 percent of U.K. websites—where about 12 million people have disabilities—did not meet accessibility standards outlined by the country’s Equality Act of 2010. Consequences can include lawsuits by advocacy groups.

IEEE Member Preety Kumar has made Web accessibility her life’s work. In 1999 she founded Deque Systems, a company in Herndon, Va., that provides software and training to help developers ensure their websites are accessible.

The company’s software can detect whether colors are too similar—which might make navigating a website difficult for people who are color-blind. The software also includes suggestions on adding alt tags, which can be read aloud to a user with visual impairments by screen-reading devices. Kumar gave a keynote speech at this year’s CSUN Assistive Technologies Conference, in San Diego, which The Institute attended.

We asked her about the benefits of prioritizing accessibility from the start of development, and how programmers can get up to speed.

What are some of the biggest mistakes developers make when it comes to making websites accessible?

Simply a lack of awareness of accessible development. Developers learn only if they are told about the errors as they make them.

For example, if you don’t add a label to a certain field on a website, a screen reader won’t read the associated text to an input field. This leaves users guessing as to what they are filling out, such as name or email address. That’s why it’s important to integrate accessibility into testing, early and throughout the life cycle of development.

My company encourages clients to think of a proactive plan for building accessibility features into their sites from the onset. This saves time and money and makes the product more user-friendly for those with disabilities.

Are those training to become Web developers being taught about accessibility, and where can they receive instruction?

I don’t believe accessibility is a part of most college curriculums or training programs. Often developers choose to learn how to do something when it is relevant and in-demand. Web accessibility is no exception.

Deque University, which is part of Deque Systems, is an option for learning about accessibility design. The school offers self-paced online classes, instructor-led workshops, and other resources.

Another resource is the Teach Access initiative, which was started by large technology companies to teach Web developers about accessible design and development.

Finally, once they receive training on website accessibility, they can pursue a certificate from the International Association of Accessibility Professionals.

What costs are involved in making a website accessible?

If a company is building the website in-house, factoring in accessibility won’t really add much time or cost to the budget. There will be some upfront investment, such as specialized development tools, establishing a work flow, and training developers. After that it shouldn’t account for more than 2 percent of the total budget for the project.

Who else can benefit from accessible websites?

While accessibility is geared toward people with disabilities, it is amazing how an accessible website is essential for elderly users. Prioritizing accessibility is equally valuable for many developing countries, where reliable bandwidth is a real issue and pages are much slower to load.

Are more companies making accessibility a priority?

My company is getting more requests from Fortune 500 companies, U.S. federal agencies, financial institutions, health-care providers, retailers, and education providers, and many more.

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